Friday, June 29, 2012


This is a paper I wrote on using the tools of Postmodernism. I will be posting it in parts as it is too long for just one blog post. So, here is part 1. Here is Part two

A defining moment

To begin this journey to understand if or how postmodernism can either hurt or help Christianity there must be a working definition. While some assert that Postmodernism is too wide to define, many others tend toward an oversimplification of a complex but possibly helpful tool that some elements of Postmodernism lets people discover. Many view Postmodernism as an infection from atheism. Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead.” is quoted often to show the damage that society may fall into if its philosophy or values are questioned[1].  However, many forget that Nietzsche was using a fictional “madman” to show that if people are not careful with our values, can kill God. Stating another way, if we are not careful to check what we believe and even take the courage to question the very core values of our belief system we lose sight of gaining truth. While there is the same danger of falling into the issues and pitfalls of Postmodernism as many have with Modernism (without realizing how deep he or she has fallen into the pit), the tools of Postmodernism may and has in some sense help redeem the power and truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
As Sire indicates, even Ihab Hassan, “who is thought to be the first scholar to write on Postmodernism” confesses, “I know less about postmodernism today than I did thirty years ago [1971].While the definition itself is an issue, Mark Lilla states about postmodernism, “is long on attitude and short on arguments.” [2]

However, one must not fear the inability to have a clear definition (which in an ironic twist is the very need, want, and desire, of modernism) and remember the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”[3] So, even without a clear definition, a person of faith in Jesus Christ can move forward knowing that while there is no way to prove God’s existence, there is this substance we call faith. If we truly trust God, God can withstand any question or attempt to dismantle ideas or even truths; as God is God.

To question “truth” is not to hate it or defy it unless the motive and attitude behind the question as in the case in Genesis where Satan questions God’s words to Adam and Eve[4]. However, like Jacob who wrestled with the Angel (who many believe to be the pre-incarnate Jesus), we are called to wrestle with God (not to be confused with “wrestling against God”).

N.T. Wright comes closest to helping understand what is happening with Postmodernism:
This quite sudden and threatening transition is bound up with [the] movement in recent years from what has been called modernism to what is being called postmodernism. To oversimplify, this has focused on three areas.
First, knowledge and truth. Where modernism thought it could know things objectively about the world, postmodernism has reminded us that there is no such thing as neutral knowledge. Everybody has a point of view, and that point of view distorts. Everybody describes things the way that suits them. There is no such thing as objective truth. Likewise, there are no such things as objective values, only preferences[5].

      N.T Wright goes on to explain that in Modernity, Descartes ‘s cogito ergo sum or the almighty “I” of individualism has been replaced with a deconstructed self. [6] This deconstructed self has become an “accidental meeting place of conflicting forces and impulses.” [7]    Third, N.T. Wright looks at the narrative that modernity created and holds it with suspect. [8]   However, as this is the Postmodern Age, preaching the Modernist Gospel “cannot be done”. [9]

Still for want of someone in need of any sort of definition, looking at Postmodernism as “a worldview that questions worldviews” is about as close as definition as possible. [10] With this as a working definition, the question to ask is whether the questioning is wrong or brings hope or despair? Most important, as N.T. Wright asks, “What does all this have to say about Christian mission in a postmodern world?” [11]

Part of the despair or perhaps eye-opening truth is that many postmodernist see the system (whatever it may be) as failing or worse a point of power in which evil wants to control him or her. We read this in the newspaper today as people hit the streets in protest as in the On Wall Street (OWS). The OWS see the gulf between the rich and poor. The OWS see the burden debt that overshadows and kills the narrative of the American Dream. This, of course, is not just happening in the USA but in Australia and even the Middle East as Iranians struggle for freedom against a corrupt and powerful regime. The world is a mess and while many desire to use peaceful means, even the authorities, whom we voted for or hired to serve and protect us, have turned it all into a game of violence. To turn a phrase uttered by Paul the Apostle in Philippians 3:8, “All is skubala.”  There seems to be no hope.

Likewise in the spiritual sense, the world (on one hand), seems more open to discussions of God and Jesus. However, many people still fear to utter a question against the local church or pastor, let alone the Bible or long held doctrines. Is the act of deconstruction a damnable sin? Does questioning if one believes in inerrancy or the virgin birth in itself make one a “heretic”? In fact the very word heretic is worn proudly by people I know and love and yet I see their faith clearer than those tossing the word at them.

The Christian is to grow in the love of Christ and not be held back by fear. 1 John 4:18 “There is not fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” While truth of corruption and power and narratives that have been proven horribly wrong (such as General Custer was a hero and not a mass murderer of women and children), truth also sets us free. Even Martin Luther understood that at times people need to tear down and question what they have believed if it does not go with the accepted norm. A brief reading of the 95 Thesis shows how far the accepted truth had gone until one person began to notice something was wrong. For example:

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or to be surely remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven. [12]

            To deconstruct in and of its self is not evil and in a sense is a reflection of the call to come to Christ. We are called to “die to self” 1 Peter 2:24 states this: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (EVS).

            In chapter eight of Michael Palmer’s Elements of a Christian Worldview C.B. Johns and V.W. White write of a college freshman named Jeff. Jeff is a good person and does all the right things. Jeff derives his morals and ethics from the Bible yet as explained in the Elements of a Christian Worldview, this does not mean Jeff is equipped to face the Postmodern world. This book attempts to explain that Jeff needs to have a “the heart and the mind of a Christian” and “this will transform his view of reality.” [13] This sounds good and yet without Christ being Jeff’s reality, just being a Christian in the Postmodern world is not enough. Of course I understand what Palmer is getting at. However, in the real-world the word “Christian” itself is held suspect and often looked at as another fundamentalist or even ignorant worldview. Many who hold faith in Jesus have stopped using “Christian” as they feel it does not have much to do with their faith and is tainted. The idea of a “Christian mind” brings images of Fred Phelps and the hate he spreads instead of the original meaning of “little Christ”.

[1] (Sire 2004, p.214)

[2] Ibid p. 215

[3] (Brainy Quotes 2001 - 2012 BrainyQuote)

[4] (Genesis 3:1-7)
[5] (Wright 1998)

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] (Sire 2004, p. 217)

[11] (Wright 1998)

[12] (Luther 2005, p. 41)

[13] (Palmer 2002, p. 284)

Brainy Quotes. Brainy Quotes. 2001 - 2012 BrainyQuote. (accessed 6 19, 2012).

Luther, Martin. Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings. Second. Augsburg Fortress: Fortress Press, 2005.

Oord, Thomas Jay. The Nature of Love: a theology. Danvers: Chalice Press, 2010.

Palmer, M.D. Elements of a Christian Worldview. 2nd. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2002.

Sire, J.W. The Universe Next Door. Madison, WI: Inter Varsity Press, 2004.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection and the Postmodern Dilemma. 1998. (accessed June 19, 2012).

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